Evening Class Themes
by Maeve Binchy

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Evening Class Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Binchy assembles a cast of characters who have been dealt bad hands, made bad discards, foolishly upped antes, and bluffed or have otherwise lost in life's poker game. Each character has a dream of how life can be better. But, as Aidan states it, the goalposts are always moving. It is images of the ordinary and repeated images of the familiar that often frustrate any new plays on the field. For example, as Connie drops off Fran and Kathy after class one night, Fran sees "her mother putting out the dustbin, a cigarette still in her mouth despite the rain that would fall on it and make it soggy, the same scuffed slippers and sloppy housecoat that she wore all the time." Seeing this familiar picture of her mother as she sits in Connie's fine car makes Fran feel ashamed, and then "ashamed of herself for feeling ashamed of her mother."

When Fran and the others join Signora's evening class, they are christened with Italianized names. This metaphoric baptism gives them new identities and the opportunity for a new life. While Binchy's themes touch on the religious, her characters' epiphanies (such as Fran's) are always clothed in images of the ordinary world.

As the characters role-play ordering food in an Italian restaurant or explaining to an Italian doctor which parts of their bodies hurt, they begin to see the familiar in a new light. Thinking in a new language produces new insights. Aidan and Connie experience epiphanies about their spouses and opt for divorce; Bill begins to see Olive less as a burden and more as an extension of the protective love he feels for Suzi; Lou redefines success as failure; Kathy eases the burden on her mother by searching for her real father; Fiona becomes decisive and alters more lives than just her own; Laddy blurs distinctions between fantasy and reality.

All create new ways of defining and naming their worlds and make brave moves to change. The themes of renewal and human evolution are linked to the human capacity to dream. This is expressed very simply by Brigid when she says: "If more people had the guts to go after what they want, the world would be a better place."